It was Caesar's turn to look troubled and pained as he stood upon the prow of his trireme again and assessed the situation. The bulk of the barbarian force, led by its cavalry, had tracked his fleet along the coast and was marshaling itself upon and around the beach where he was intending to land his own army. Caesar had given the orders for his ships containing his archers and artillery to anchor at both ends of the beach, in order to flank the enemy and provide covering fire. Word was passed around that the legions should ready themselves for the attack. Yet whereas upon land the so0ldiers would have commenced to snarl, jeer and thump their shields Caesar witnessed a sea of hesitant faces. He was worried too, about the depth of the water and the strength of his enemy. He could lose as many men to drowning as he could to British spears. Yet the time to attack was now. Caesar would not be Caesar if he suffered defeat or a retreat, the proconsul judged.
Oppius winced slightly at the brightness of the searing blue sky. Perhaps the Gods had dispelled the clouds in order to get a better view of the imminent, bloody spectacle he fancied. The legionaries looked at each other, with blank rather than eager expressions. Even Fabius' glowing olive skin had lost a little of its colour. The boats had still to brush against the seabed beneath them. Enemy archers had assembled towards the rear of the beach. The shields of the soldiers in the transport vessels nearest to them began to look like pin cushions. The sea breeze whistled around their ears. Although the sun blazed down upon them the wailing sound still sent chills down spines. Even Roscius appeared apprehensive.
Caesar had crossed the channel. The die was cast. He could not go back. His pride would not allow him to. Caesar could not suffer the ignominy of failure. Even in victory Cato and other backward-looking members of the Senate had criticised him. Yet he could not move forward without his legions. If he was on land he could give a rousing speech and direct his officers and troops with purpose. Battles often rage like fires but every fire needs a spark, Caesar thought. He drew his sword, hoping that the action would somehow serve as an inspiration or signal.
The light reflected off the commander's sword, into the standard bearer's eyes. Lucius Oppius was the son of a soldier. His father had intended to work out his service in the army and gain a plot of land that he could call his own. The veteran legionary ultimately craved peace. Yet the son craved promotion over peace. Perhaps it was the voice of his dead father, Gnaeus Oppius, whispering in his ear now. Lucius had heard stories from veterans how his father would lead from the front when he had served under Marius, Caesar's uncle. Or were the Gods now whispering in his ears? As when a barbarian would look to capture a Roman eagle, were madness and vain-glory taking possession of his soul?
"Once we're on that beach, we'll soon bring peace to this barbarous land," Roscius exclaimed, trying to convince himself of his argument as much as others.
"If you want peace, prepare for war," Fabius replied, almost in a whisper, perhaps quoting one of the writers that the would-be poet was so fond of.
Yet Oppius barely heard the youth's words, as he prepared to make his leap of faith.